Is cheerleading a sport? Depends on whom you ask.
Ask the Georgia High School Association, and cheerleading qualifies. How about the cheerleaders themselves? Well, you probably shouldn't even ask.
Longtime Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly did just that. He nearly didn't make it out alive.
Reilly, who now works for ESPN, detailed in his 2007 book, Hate Mail From Cheerleaders , that among the hundreds of columns he's written during his career, one stuck out because of the response he received. He received the most hate mail -- by a large margin -- for one in which he claimed that cheerleading is not a sport.
He now claims to be a convert on that subject after much "convincing."
However, if you ask the women's volleyball team at Quinnipiac University, cheerleading is absolutely and unequivocally not a sport. Or at least it's not as much of a sport as volleyball.
You might ask yourself why volleyball players would get in on the argument. The reason is simple: Because the university considers cheerleading to be a sport, and the school's women's volleyball team was dismantled in an effort to cut costs.
According to a recent ABC News report, the situation boiled down to money and the effect of federal legislation commonly known as Title IX. It costs the Hamden, Conn., university roughly $70,000 per year for a women's volleyball team of 11 players, while the cost is only about $50,000 for a cheerleading team of 40.
Once it was dismantled last year and replaced with a cheerleading team, the women's volleyball team decided to file suit. The resulting federal trial got underway Monday, and a nation of cheerleaders -- and sports fans in general, to be sure -- are waiting on pins and needles for what is sure to be a controversial decision. That's because it could have a huge effect as legal precedent for future decisions.
Title IX, enacted in 1972, requires schools to keep a balance between athletic offerings for men and women. It also applies to high schools.
The GHSA Web site reads as follows on the viability of cheerleading as a sport: "Cheerleading is a state championship sport in each classification for non coed teams and schools are aligned on a regional basis. There is also an open division (all classifications together) for coed competition."
The organization holds region and state competitions, awarding a state championship for each classification for all-female divisions, plus one championship for all schools in coed, without regard for classification.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sport as "an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc."
If only Oxford had scrapped the "etc." and given us closure! Notice that volleyball is not listed.
I believe cheerleading is a sport, certainly so when defined by a dictionary. Plus, my sister might never talk to me again if I said otherwise, though that is not the reason that I'm taking this stance.
Athleticism, skill, physical prowess and competitiveness might not be clearly evident on the sidelines at a football game, the standard by which many judge cheerleading, but that is far different from competitive cheerleading, with teams performing complex, ridiculously athletic routines.
Strangely, some consider the validity of a sport to be how often its competitors get injured, speaking to the sport's intensity.
"Golf isn't a sport," some have said. "Are you going to get hurt playing golf? Watch a real sport, like football."
If that's the case, cheerleading is definitely a sport. Cheerleaders suffer very serious injuries, at times, even to the point where the sport has had to alter rules to make the sport safer.
How about cheerleading's comparison to gymnastics? The two share many of the tumbling aspects, with cheerleaders doing somersaults, backflips and similar moves.
Try saying that the Gym Dogs, the Unive rsity of Georgia's famed gymnastics team, are not part of a real sport. The team has won multiple national championships and often draws larger crowds than the men's basketball team.
Because of its high-flying, athletic, competitive nature, it's clear to me that cheerleading is a sport. Too bad it's up to a federal court to decide.
In that case, I just hope that it's not some attorney defending the cheerleading team in the case. I say let the cheerleaders defend themselves.
They're pretty convincing.
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